When Chess Players Protest
One of the biggest open tournaments of the year (Gibraltar) was marred by a bizarre incident that happened in the last round.
The women's world champion, Hou Yifan, lost her game in just five moves! Media instantly spread the news throughout the world, and in many reports about the tournament they didn't even bother to mention that the event was won by Hikaru Nakamura!
Here is this notorious "game":
This is the women's world champion's explanation:
Apparently Hou Yifan was upset that in the first nine rounds of the tournament, she had to play seven female players and suspected that something was fishy with the pairings. According to the numerous reports, many tests were conducted after the tournament was over and all of them confirmed that the pairing was absolutely correct.
Chess players are smart people, but due to a lot of psychological pressure during tournaments, sometimes we don't act in the most logical way. It is difficult to calculate the damage the Hou inflicted on herself by throwing the last-round game.
Rephrasing the famous saying, losing a game in a protest is like drinking poison and expecting other person to die.
In a Swiss tournament a lot depends on pairings, so it is quite natural that under tournament pressure chess players start seeing conspiracy when the pairings look strange. I remember that in one of the biggest U.S. open tournaments, my competitor, a very strong grandmaster, got three Whites in a row in the all-important last three rounds!
I wouldn't have complained much if his third White game wasn't our last-round duel! I should add that my opponent played significantly better with White. All my efforts to convince the tournament director that two Whites in a row for me would be more logical than three Whites in a row for him were useless. So I wasn't in my best mood when we started our game.
I suffered right from the opening and was lucky to escape for a draw around move 100. In this episode I chose a very old-fashioned form of protest: talking to a tournament director.
You may be surprised, but the shocking way Hou Yifan expressed her protest is not unique! When chess players are unhappy, strange games happen!
What's going on there? Well, GM Huebner, who accumulated many adjourned games by that point and was very tired, played his first move and offered a draw. Here is the rest of the story according to Eric Schiller, who was acting as a team captain that day:
"I advised Ken to take the draw as he was Black and Huebner was, well, Huebner! After the arbiter, Sajtar, rejected the result (in 1981 at the FIDE meeting in Atlanta he admitted to me he was wrong), he ordered a rematch and several silly games were played. One went 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.Ng1 Ng8 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Ng1 Ng8 etc. Another saw them trade off all pieces to get to K. vs. K. The first game, and the one that should be official was 1.c4 1/2-1/2."
Here is another amusing draw courtesy of Dr. Huebner:
This time the German grandmaster protested against GM Miles playing the tournament on a stretcher. During the tournament Anthony Miles suffered back pain; therefore he played some of his games lying down on a massage table.
Many participants of the tournament protested in their own unique way. When GM Dzindzichashvili played his game vs. Miles, he spent the whole game standing in front of the British grandmaster. GM Ljubojevic used a different approach. He was sitting the whole game; however, he was sitting at a totally separate table from the one where Miles played their game!
GM Robert Huebner decided to play a prearranged draw where his moves would look ridiculous. When Miles learned about Huebner's idea, he said, "I'll play sensible moves, you play what you like, and I'll offer a draw on move five."
And that's how that outlandish game was born.
You see, the problem with this kind of protest is that many years later the cause of the protest will fade away from our collective memory, but the strange games will stay forever. For example, who can remember now what made young IM Patrick Lyrberg produce the following monstrosity?
Of course, I wish you to always get the best possible pairings in the tournaments that you play. But if something goes wrong and you see the ugly side of Swiss pairings, don't rush to call it conspiracy.
As they say, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.